Get savvy about how to deal with colds and flu

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Whether you battle on with a cold or succumb to full blown flu, nobody wants to suffer from viral illnesses this winter.

Cold and flu are spread through air borne droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs.

These droplets can travel about one metre and the virus can survive for up to 24 hours on surfaces or in the air.

Anyone who touches a surface or breathes in the droplets can contract a cold or flu.

It’s important to remember to wash your hands regularly to reduce the chance of infection.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for the common cold. It is, however, possible to boost your immunity and decrease the severity of cold viruses by having a healthy lifestyle.

A diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will help stave off colds, as will taking regular exercise. Although it is often thought that eating lots of vitamin C-rich foods and echinacea, or taking zinc lozenges can prevent or cure colds, there is little evidence to support this.

If you catch a cold, paracetamol can be used to reduce symptoms such as headaches, earache or a sore throat. Decongestants can be taken to relieve blocked noses.

Many people find it helpful to inhale steam to clear a blocked nose. You can do this by pouring boiling water into a heat proof bowl and then placing a tea towel over your head and breathing in the steam. Menthol crystals can be added to the water to clear the sinuses. Reduce sore throat symptoms by gargling with warm, salty, water every evening.

Flu is not a bad cold. It is a different illness and is generally more severe than a cold, giving a much wider range of symptoms.

Seasonal flu (or influenza) is caused by the flu virus. Symptoms include fever (a temperature of 38°C or above), chills, aching muscles, limb or joint pain, upset stomach, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. Flu can make you feel incredibly tired and can affect you for up to two to three weeks.

The best way to deal with flu is to rest, keep warm and drink plenty of liquid. It is also advisable to avoid strenuous activity. Paracetamol can be taken to lower a high temperature and ibuprofen can be used to deal with aching muscles. Consult a pharmacist to get advice on taking painkillers.

It is important to call your GP in the first instance if you have flu-like symptoms and are over 65, pregnant, have a long-term condition, or a weakened immune system.

If you’ve had persistent symptoms for more than five – seven days, it may be necessary to arrange an appointment to see your GP. This is because flu can be more serious for these groups of people.

There’s no cure for flu but in some cases, or during a pandemic, GPs might prescribe antiviral drugs. However, they cause many side effects, so the prescription is only given if completely necessary.

It is important to remember that antibiotics do not cure or relieve the symptoms of flu or colds. Antibiotics are used to treat illnesses caused by bacteria and flu and colds are caused by viruses.

There are several ways to reduce the likelihood of you developing a viral illness this winter:

n Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water.

n Don’t share towels and flannels and wash any clothing or bedding that could have become contaminated.

n Disinfect any surfaces or objects using a bleach-based household cleaner.

n Always cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose

n Discard used tissues as soon as you can and clean your hands afterwards

It’s best to let the illness run its course. But if further advice is required, telephone your GP or call NHS Direct on 0845 4647. If you are in an at-risk group, your GP will offer you the flu vaccine. Get a flu jab every year, as the viruses regularly mutate to form new strains. For more information visit